As a young mother at home in Detroit, Michigan in the early 40s, Brownie Wise contributed regularly to the Detroit News' "Experience" column, where readers, mostly women, shared comments about their lives.
Using the pen name "Hibiscus," Wise reminisced about her childhood in a Natchez, Mississippi plantation home. She also wrote idealized accounts of her home and family. Some of her writings for the newspaper column are excerpted below. The special poignancy of Hibiscus' descriptions is that none of them were true: in reality, Wise's origins were working class, and her husband was a violent drunk.
Brownie Wise's powers of imagination and positive thinking would help her escape her unhappy married life up North. By 1942, she would be divorced, and by 1950, she would begin her ascent in the world of Tupperware.
A Fantasy Home
Nancy my Dear:
I have done many things lately. I have moved into the home that "Coeur D'Alene" so graciously christened "Lovehaven" for us. The day before our material possessions were moved in, I went out and mentally moved myself in...
I let the door swing back, and I stood in the kitchen... so efficient looking, so sleek and shining. "That," I thought, "would look like an ordinary kitchen sink to anyone else, but to me it's a magic carpet..."
I ran ahead again and saw the nursery paper which tells the story of Peter Rabbit coming down from its wall to be replaced with a saga of trains and airplanes and boats and still later I saw a plaid or striped wall plastered with pennants and football schedules and athletes' pictures...
I walked through the whole house upstairs, downstairs, the basement, not looking at it as a house this time, a thing of stone and mortar and labor and money but as Lovehaven, which will cradle our love and our sorrow, our prosperity and weakness, our faith and our difficulties from now on...
I have done many things lately. I sat a few nights ago in a darkened theater and watched all the color and vivid beauty of Natchez drift across the screen in a movie short on the annual Natchez Garden Pilgrimage. There was something akin to a lump in my throat at the scene of the lazy river and the great oaks with their beards of Spanish moss, but there is no description for the nostalgia that swept over me at the sight of the homes along the Pilgrimage route. Just as it seemed that I could actually smell the magnolias blooming beside one of the picture porticos, a woman in front of me leaned to her companion and said, "That's where Hibiscus came from... I wonder if one of these houses is where she was born."
I wanted to lean forward and say "She was born in this one... and lived in it, and loved it, and romped all over the sweep of lawn with a shaggy Airedale named Chips. If you could walk through the screen, down behind the house you'd find a lovely grove of little orange trees where Hibiscus used to play with her dolls in the long, long ago, and where in her mind, she still goes now and then when things get confused and unhappy and uncertain..."
I have done many things lately; life is full and rich and beautiful to your --
Imagined Luxury -- and a Slave
These days take me back, too, to that great white house on the bluff at Natchez, where there's a flurry of excitement now. It soon will be time for the annual Natchez Pilgrimage, the re-enactment of life as it used to be, carriages, costumes, all the charms that can be conjured up, out of the past, and Grandmother's house will be among those open to visitors...
A voluminous affair of taffeta and lace will be pressed and prepared for Grandmother to wear when she serves tea to her special guests in the upstairs sitting-room. Ezra, whose kinky hair has been white as long as I can remember, will be straightening out chairs on the veranda, and muttering darkly about 'de Missus lettin' dem furriners come heah agin dis yeah and tram all ovah de place... right in de Massuh's own bedroom too... If'n de Cunnel wuz heah now, day sho' wou'dn't be no sech goin's on, no suh!
Through the great double doors opening to the right of the stairway, visitors probably will catch a glimpse of a sunbeam or two setting up highlights on the polished surface of the mahogany clavichord in the high-ceiling drawing-room. Identical double doors to the left will beckon into the dining room. Visitors moving the length of the table, admiring the fragile beauty of the English china, will look with somewhat startled eyes on the banquet table set with covers for fifty in this day of service-for-eight. Someone will stop to examine the Bohemian glass finger-bowls, and attention will be called to the 40-foot damask cloth, especially woven with the name of the plantation set in fine scroll in each cluster of roses.
Excerpts from the Papers of Brownie Wise, Smithsonian Archive Center.
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